‘Semester of Service’

Statewide after-school program enters a ‘Semester of Service’
By Amanda Rittenhouse
Staff writer

Students throughout the state of New Jersey who are enrolled in the New Jersey After 3 program, will soon have the opportunity to enter a semester of service in their communities.

New Jersey After 3, a nonprofit organization that created a web of after-school programs across the state in 2004, was chosen by Youth Service America to participate in 12 weeks of community service learning activities starting Jan. 18, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and ending during Global Youth Service Day, which actually spans April 23 to 25.

The Semester of Service will be implemented by agencies nationwide with funding from Youth Service America (YSA).

YSA, an organization based in Washington D.C., encourages the participation of students ages 5 to 25 in community service.

According to YSA spokesman Brandon Gryde, this is the third year the organization is holding the Semester of Service.

This is also the first year that New Jersey After 3 was chosen to receive funding from the YSA as a lead agency.

About 13 lead agencies were chosen by YSA through an application process focusing on an agency’s track record of building effective partnerships within the community, and the agency’s level of understanding of learning through service and the role people can play in making a positive change.

“We want to engage young people, educators and community organizations in promoting a youth-service movement and to help people understand that youth can make a positive change on local, national and global levels. We hope to show that community service has a great impact on academic achievement, career education and the role that young people can play in their communities,” Gryde said.

All After 3 locations across the state follow a three-hour, five-day-a-week model of after-school programming, which runs from 3 to 6 p.m. and offers: homework assistance; cultural, academic, and community service opportunities; leadership, career and fitness programs for students in kindergarten through eighth grade.

New Jersey After 3 sites are located in school buildings staffed by about 45 nonprofit organizations.

According to After 3 CEO Mark Valli, the organization is funded through the New Jersey Department of Education and private grants.

Director of content and special initiatives Cari Tarica said the program currently has about 12,500 students enrolled across the state.

Through the Semester of Service, students will participate in service-learning projects in a program titled “Speak Out & Listen Up.” Aided by their advisors, they will identify issues within their communities and commit to service activities that focus on a theme of “literacy, hope and peace”. According to Tarica, during “Speak Out & Listen Up” students will learn about themes such as conflict resolution and create artistic projects, such as poetry and plays, to share with their communities.

Program development coordinator for the Educational Information and Resource Center (EIRC) Tamika L. Chester helps to run After 3 programs in Lindenwold, Camden and Gloucester City.

EIRC is going into its sixth year of partnership with New Jersey After 3. Founded 30 years ago, the center works with local school districts to provide after-school care with the New Jersey After 3 model.

EIRC has five sites, including the R.T. Cream Family School in Camden, the Lindenwold Schools number four and five, the Lindenwold Middle School and the Cold Springs School and Mary Ethel Costello School, which are both in Gloucester City.

“We believe in the concept of providing after-school opportunities across the state of New Jersey that offer safe environments for children, academic assistance and support to working families,” Chester said.

According to Chester, parents are pleased and grateful that the program keeps children, especially those in kindergarten through fourth grade, safe until they return home from work.

At EIRC’s After 3-sponsored locations, students participate in activities such as karate, cooking and science clubs, music, dance literacy and drama programs, receive homework assistance and perform community service.

Chester said her group also plans to work with New Jersey After 3 to participate in the Youth Service America Semester of Service.

Glassboro Child Development Center, an organization that has provided After 3 programs in the Glassboro area since 2004, offers after-school programming at Glassboro Public School District Schools including the Dorothy L. Bullock School, Thomas E. Bowe School and Glassboro Intermediate School.

Executive director of the Glassboro Child Development Center Joan Dillon said a variety of opportunities — including academic enrichment, homework help, literacy programs, computer free time, fitness activities and service learning — is offered to students.

The Glassboro Child Development Center existed for about 20 years before New Jersey After 3 partnered with the center. Dillon said her goal is to keep kids safe and help them academically through after-school programming.

“I think first and foremost it helps our students and their families. New Jersey After 3 subsidizes programming for all kids regardless of income and makes after-school programs more accessible to families, especially with families with multiple children,” Dillon said.

Posted on Wed, Nov. 25, 2009

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